Center Court?

A bit of discussion has been going on recently in and around the Orangenets (almost, but not quite, the same thing as the Ongenaets) about whether to explore putting the basketball court in the middle of the Dome, oriented lengthwise, rather than down at one end zone as it has always been. It came up most prominently on Brent Axe’s blog Saturday.

It’s an intriguing idea — at first. By putting the court in the middle of the football field and opening up the entire arena, there is potential for having 50,000+ at a basketball game. Axe mentions that there would be difficulty with the “wiring”. I assume he means things like the shot clocks, scorers’ table etc because there are certainly sufficient resources for a broadcast — just plug all the cameras in their normal locations for football. As a permanent position for the court it would be nuts, because the attendance for most games wouldn’t justify it; it’d be cavernous in there. But maybe for one game a year, one of the really big opponents, it would be a cool novelty thing to do.

But before jumping on this bandwagon, I figure I ought to look at the dimensions of the respective playing areas, to get a really good concept of how big the football field really is as compared to the basketball court. Here’s a rough outline:

These are just the dimensions of the playing surfaces for each sport; this doesn’t take into account all the extra space along the sidelines. (I was unable to find online the exact width of the Dome from one set of bleachers to the opposite side.) The basketball court would sit more or less between the 35-yard lines, with the sidelines just a few feet outside the hash marks.

So what we are looking at here is end zone seats that are approximately 150 feet from the action (not to mention behind the baskets). And those would be for the premium end zone seats, the ones right at field level. People up in the top deck are going to be much, much further away. Those seats are going to be highly undesirable. Those near the 50-yard line will be OK, and you could put in removable seats between the stands and the court (just as they do behind the baskets in the current configuration). But I don’t think they could put too many removable seats behind the baskets without blocking out the end zone seating. They certainly couldn’t put up something like the current portable stands that go along the far sideline. The height of that set of bleachers would block the view of almost anyone in the end zone area.

I don’t have the engineering abilities to really analyze the effective seating capacity of the center-Dome approach, but it seems to me that it would max out at around 53K. This is a guess based on using all of the official 49K football capacity plus some rows of removable seats between the football stands and the basketball sidelines. There’d be two major problems with putting this plan into action, though.

  1. Season Ticket Holders: The athletic department would have to go through the pain of allotting seats in this new arrangement. They’d have to convince a lot of people to sit further from the court than they are used to. People who paid premium ticket prices, plus additional “donations” to the Orange Pack or whatever, so they’d be within insult-hurling range of Jim Calhoun. All of a sudden, for one of the biggest games of the year they’d be told that they’ll be pushed back a respectable distance. And it’d have to be for one of the biggest games of the year, because of:
  2. Demand: no game at the Dome ever really sells out. There are always a few more nosebleed seats available. History has established that max demand for even the biggest games is around 33K. After that, people who might want to go decide not to buy a ticket because they know they aren’t going to be able to see much. A center-Dome court won’t alleviate that concern at all. In fact, it might depress the demand if the seats end up being further away from the court than the current nosebleed areas. Even if demand is the same, there is little chance of getting 50,000+ for a basketball game. You’d have to increase the demand somehow. So it’d have to be Georgetown or UConn probably.

Not to mention that I have ho idea how they’d be able to accomodate all the season ticket holders without relegating the student section to some far-off region in the stands. There just aren’t enough seats close to the court in any conceivable arrangement. (Again, if you were to surround the court with removable seats then you’d block the view from the end zones and make pointless the whole exercise.)

The only way I can conceive of this working is to do it once. Not once a year, just once. Period. The athletics dept would have to promote the crap out of it, so that people would be willing to sit in the upper reaches of the Dome with binoculars just so they could say they were a part of the event. (This approach can work — I was on the National Mall during the inauguration. Talk about nosebleed seats. And minus the “seats” part.) The season ticket holders will have to be reassured that this is just a one-time thing, that they are not going to have to give up their primo seat for one of the top games every year. And it’d probably have to include some sort of halftime event that would draw a lot of people, like retiring Gerry’s jersey or something. That’s the only way I can think of that you’ll be able to convince that many people to come to a basketball game. It should be possible, because they used to sell out football games (once in a while). But only if it’s special.

There are also serious costs involved, and if it’s only going to be done once, the costs might not be worth it. That’s an analysis I’ll leave to the crack accountants in the AD’s office. On the plus side, though, we’d be setting an untouchable attendance record. And getting a jolt of extra publicity in the national sports pages. And showing that the Dome is perhaps a viable venue for the Final Four…? (I know it’ll never happen but we can dream, why not?)

So, all things considered, I think it might be worth a go (though I remain ignorant about the extent of the financial costs involved). Other thoughts?


  1. Matt
    Posted February 25, 2009 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    just out of curiosity, why is the basketball court only 84ft? shouldn’t it be 94? the all-knowing wikipedia has ncaa court length at 94 feet.

  2. Posted February 26, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I looked it up online somewhere… it said NBA courts are 94 and college are 84. I didn’t comfirm my source though. Wikipedia may be right. Either way it makes little difference to the argument….

  3. Posted February 26, 2009 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    I say, do a test run with the NCAA Tournament. That’s really the only basketball event they can do there that can conceivable come close to filling the place. Next time we have the Regional…

  4. Michael
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    For the record:

    I once got a VIP tour of the Dome, and I mean everything, including getting to go up into the roof structure, the physical plant, and the operations center - while I was working on a conceptual design for an expansion of the stadium at UB.

    I asked the staff there the same question about re-orienting the basketball court along the long axis of the Dome. There is really only one thing that is preventing this from happening - the fact that the front row of fixed seating is so close in elevation to the concrete floor. In other venues that are designed to be more flexible (typically with football or baseball as the primary use) the front row of fixed seating is higher up above the floor (generally at least six feet). This allows for additional temporary riser seating to be erected while still giving everyone a good sight line - for a concert, boxing ring, etc. As illustrated in the diagram above - if you set up level seating on the floor, beyond a few rows, you wouldn’t even be able to see the action.


    P.S. - They do add a few temporary rows of riser seating during basketball games – but only about a half-dozen.

  5. bob
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Here’s Ford Field from last year’s Midwest Regional.

    And, Nunes, next regional in the Dome is 2010, according to Wikipedia.

  6. Ryan
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Depending on the reason for reconfiguring the placement of the court, I can think of a few options that are viable.

    I think pretty much the only valid argument to moving the court is to pack more people into the seats. Although a perfectly centered court would provide the maximum capacity, I agree that it wouldn’t provide the most demand.

    I can think of three options in which you could improve seating capacity without adversely affecting the product to keep people from coming out.

    1. Keep the current orientation of the court, move it from its placement in the football end zone 10-15 yards towards the East end of the dome.

    Pros: a) More risers can be placed along the North and South sidelines of the dome creating more seats close to the action in the corners and behind the baskets (however these seats I don’t believe carry the same premium price tag as seats along the sidelines).

    Cons: a)Permanent seats on the West end are farther from the action.
    b) Risers and floor seats along the sidelines are already at capacity, so you just create more distance between the West end floor seats and the court.

    2. Change the orientation of the court to the proposed West to East and place the court between the 15 yard line and 45 yard line.

    Pros: a) A ton of risers and floor seats can be placed along the sidelines.
    b) You can keep the monster risers behind the East end basket.
    c)You put the upper deck on the North and South end in play, adding a ton of seats.

    Cons: a) Risers and floor seats in the West end will be just as far away from the court as in option 1, and they’ll also be behind the basket.

    3. Make risers on the East End even taller.

    Pros: a) Easy way to add seats.
    Cons: a) Don’t know how safe this would be
    b) Probably wouldn’t add more than a small number of seats.

    I personally think option 2 would be the best, and as a rough estimate I think you could probably get 40,000 into the dome that way. I’d like to see it done for some strange reason.

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